Gene variant in East Asians could explain resistance to cancer drugs

Posted: March 19, 2012 at 6:16 am

London, March 19 (ANI): Scientists have now found answer to why some patients fail to respond to some of the most successful cancer drugs.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs (TKIs) work effectively in most patients to fight certain blood cell cancers, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLC) with mutations in the EGFR gene.

These precisely targeted drugs shut down molecular pathways that keep these cancers flourishing and include TKIs for treating CML, and the form of NSCLC with EGFR genetic mutations.

Now, a multi-national research team led by scientists at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, working with the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), Singapore General Hospital and the National Cancer Centre Singapore, has discovered that there is a common variation in the BIM gene in people of East Asian descent that contributes to some patients' failure to benefit from these tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs.

"Because we could determine in cells how the BIM gene variant caused TKI resistance, we were able to devise a strategy to overcome it," said S. Tiong Ong, M.B.B. Ch., senior author of the study and associate professor in the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Signature Research Programme at Duke-NUS and Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, at Duke University Medical Center.

"A novel class of drugs called the BH3-mimetics provided the answer," he said.

"When the BH3 drugs were added to the TKI therapy in experiments conducted on cancer cells with the BIM gene variant, we were able to overcome the resistance conferred by the gene. Our next step will be to bring this to clinical trials with patients," Ong added.

Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., a co-senior author of this study and associate director for Genome Technology and Biology at GIS said: "We used a genome-wide sequencing approach to specifically look for structural changes in the DNA of patient samples. This helped in the discovery of the East Asian BIM gene variant. What's more gratifying is that this collaboration validates the use of basic genomic technology to make clinically important discoveries."

If the drug combination does override TKI resistance in people, this will be good news for those with the BIM gene variant, which occurs in about 15 percent of the typical East Asian population. By contrast, no people of European or African ancestry were found to have this gene variant.

"While it's interesting to learn about this ethnic difference for the mutation, the greater significance of the finding is that the same principle may apply for other populations," said Patrick Casey, Ph.D., senior vice dean for research at Duke-NUS and James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology.

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Gene variant in East Asians could explain resistance to cancer drugs

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